Pampered under the Fijian sun (+photos)

By Rebecca Barry Hill

He's a keen surfer building the resort of his dreams; she's a bubbly host who looks like a model. Mitch Hagerman and Jenny Veruchi met at a New Year's Eve party two years ago when she came to Fiji on holiday.

Despite her boyfriend back home preparing to propose, she couldn't bring herself to leave.

I don't blame her. The American couple live a dream lifestyle, shacked up in a gorgeous villa overlooking the sea, where they're overseeing the final touches of their five-star Taunovo Bay resort, due to open in April.

And they know how to show guests a good time. I've barely had a chance to explore my sprawling villa when Jenny packs me into a kayak for a paddle. Then it's off for a quick jog down the beach and into the pool for a dip.

Next they're whisking me off for a meal at the Arts Village in Pacific Harbour, where we wash down our fish tacos with Bloody Marys and discuss our ambitions. One of theirs, once the resort is up and running, is to travel the world's party circuit.

It's obvious they're social people but for Jenny in particular, who is 26 and living far away from her friends and family, hosting another female close to her age is a small relief from the loneliness. By the end of my 24 hours here, we will be firm friends.

Back at the resort, they've arranged for us each to have a traditional beachside massage, from which I emerge thoroughly relaxed with birds-nest hair and skin smelling of coconut oil. That night they introduce me to their friends at Hot Stones Villas, a beautifully decorated boutique resort on the Qara ni Qio river, where we're treated to fresh sashimi, prawns and pakapaka fish, and lots of champagne.

Taunovo Bay is in Pacific Harbour on the southern coast of Viti Levu, a two-hour drive from Nadi or a 30-minute flight to the private air strip.

The area is best known as the adventure capital of Fiji but there are also plenty of opportunities to be pampered in resorts like Taunovo Bay, Royal Davui and Beqa Lagoon.

Royal Davui is so exclusive it has its own island and one local guy looked thoroughly miffed - or was that jealous? - when he explained the ceilings opened via remote control. Another rolled her eyes when telling me most guests arrive on the island by chopper. Even the resort's marketing seems a tad elitist, describing it as "a romantic island retreat where a privileged few can enjoy the solitude of a secluded island in total luxury and comfort".

Well that part's true.

Although the resort is full, there is no one to be seen when the traditional Fijian choir welcomes me on to the island. I'm relieved to find it still looks like one, a tiny, tree-lined oasis with A-line villas jutting over the cliffs around its perimeter.

The focal point of the hotel is the open-plan restaurant, with paths snaking off it, leading to the rooms at the water's edge. It's a beautiful, tropical retreat, but you'd have to be seriously in love with someone to want to come here, because you can't help but feel you've washed up in a fantasy. And with rooms starting from US$500 ($622) a night, (including meals), you'd want to be certain you'd still be with your other half when you got home.

I've no need to worry about that. I have my own sprawling, four-level hut, with an unspoiled view of the ocean, to myself. There's fresh banana bread in the kitchen, two decks, one with a cold plunge pool and a bathroom mirror out of which the tap water flows.

The resort also offers leisure activities including fishing, diving and snorkelling.

After a light lunch of oysters with papaya and a chicken sandwich with brie, I join two couples for a snorkelling trip, close to a surf break where the water is mottled green and blue, and the current pushes us in one direction with no need to use our flippers.

After experiencing the thrill of shark-diving a few days earlier I wasn't expecting anything to come close, but the ocean floor is home to the most stunning soft corals I've ever seen. Schools of minute blue fish pulse in and out of the coral petals, huge brown brains have black fish darting around them and pink and white ribbons flutter on the current. Then it's back to the island for a coconut bath, under the open skylight, and dinner - warm chorizo, potato and pepper entree, with succulent snapper for main.

Twenty-four hours after the quiet luxury of Royal Davui, I'm eating grilled swordfish with an excited Aussie wedding party of about 30 at Beqa Lagoon Resort. Most of them have spent the day diving and surfing and are now spread out along the tables swapping stories and sipping kava.

Next day, there's a tour through the neighbouring Rukua village.

Our guide Emosi takes us through muddy bush, past caged pigs, to a small village, where the first to greet us are the mangy puppies. Inside Emosi's house, furniture is placed around the outer rim of the room, tapa cloths hang on the walls and a shrine to Jesus is next to champagne labels tacked to the walls.

Outside, where the smell of smoke and meat hangs in the air, children pose for photos, a tiny shop sells trinkets and colour-coded washing hangs on the line.

It's a jolt that puts much of this experience into perspective.

* Rebecca Barry flew to Fiji with Air New Zealand and stayed at Royal Davui, Beqa Lagoon Resort and Taunovo Bay Resort care of Fiji Tourism.

GETTING THERE
Air New Zealand operates nine services a week between Auckland and Nadi. In addition, there is a weekly direct service between Wellington and Nadi and Christchurch and Nadi. Go to www.airnewzealand.co.nz

ACCOMMODATION
Royal Davui, Royal Davui Island. www.royaldavui.com

Charter flights available on request.

Beqa Lagoon Resort, www.beqalagoonresort.com

Taunovo Bay Resort, Pacific Harbour, Viti Levu. www.taunovobay.com

ACTIVITIES
Pacific Harbour offers shark diving, fishing, surfing, jet-skiing, snorkelling, golf and kayaking. Beqa Lagoon Resort also offers a village trip, and Taunovo Bay offers boat rides to its private island, Nanuku.

MORE INFORMATION
Go to www.bulafiji.com

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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